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Here’s what happens when you exclude women from e-sports

This article ran first on the Psychology Today blog and is reprinted here with the permission of the author, Dr. Janina Scarlet. Legion of Leia would like you to be aware of the online harassment that the author has received. It is unacceptable here, or anywhere else.

Ever heard the expression “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? Chances are that there is at least one name that someone called you, at least one rejection that you faced that stayed with you for years. You might have stayed up at night wondering what you could have done differently, wondering how you will be able to recover from the devastating emotional pain you are feeling.

It appears then, that the above-stated (and highly overused) expression may not be accurate.

In fact, numerous research studies have demonstrated that our brain perceives emotional hurt in a similar way to deep physical pain. Situations in which we might be rejected can activate pain receptors in the pain regions of our brain (i.e., anterior cingulate cortex and periaqueductal gray structure). These regions are active when we experience severe physical pain (such as physical abuse, assault, or burns). These are the same regions that are activated when we are bullied, rejected, and excluded.

Although most would agree that bullying, including cyberbullying, can lead to devastating consequences for the bullying target, including suicide, we are not talking enough about another source of excruciating emotional pain – social exclusion.

“For social animals, being socially excluded was often equivalent to death” (MacDonald & Leary, 2005).

Historically, being excluded has meant that we will not survive. In the modern day, being excluded can bring up shame, deep emotional hurt, and suffering, as well as feelings of depressionlonelinessanger, and devastation. Like other forms of bullying, exclusion may be easier to notice when it occurs front of us, as opposed to virtually. However, many online events accidentally or deliberately exclude members, causing deep emotional distress to those excluded.

Online games are a great example of that. For instance, Blizzard Entertainment, well-known for its action-packed incredibly fun games, like World of Warcraft, Diablo, and Overwatch are known for having a wide range of diverse characters. Unfortunately, Blizzard’s recent Overwatch League failed to include any female players despite many qualified players around the world, including Kim “Geguri” Se-yeon, one of the top-level players.

How does exclusion affect people?

People who experience social exclusion (such as exclusion from gaming based on one’s gender) are more likely to experience high levels of emotional pain. Specifically, they are likely to experience depression, sadness, and hopelessness. They are also likely to experience physical pain in response to their emotional suffering.

Why do people exclude others?

In her book, “Daring Greatly,” researcher Brené Brown talks about the concept of scarcity. She states that we spend our lives fearing that we are not enough—not good enough, not accomplished enough, not successful enough. I also believe that we take this belief a step further to think that if we are not enough, then it means that our chances of being enough are scarce as well.

This would then imply that we have to push out our competition because to allow them in, or worse, to allow them to win, would confirm what we have believed all along—that we are not enough.

But what if that were not the case—what if the opportunities aren’t scarce? What if allowing women to play in the League does not diminish anyone’s chances of success? What if you accepted the fact that you are enough? That you—the player, regardless of your sex, sexual orientation, skin color, country of origin, or gaming stats were enough. Just because you’re you. Because you’re loved. Because you’re a beautiful soul and deserve to be loved.

What can be done?

I believe that universal inclusion based on skill, as opposed to sex/gender, skin color, etc. can help more people to be included. I also think that it’s important to acknowledge that every person out there is suffering in one way or another, fighting a demon or a boss monster that you might know nothing about, yet could possibly relate to if you did. I think that in addition to exercising social inclusion, Blizzard games could use compassion segments and even compassionate storylines in their games to promote inclusion and empathy toward others.

It is my hope that we as people of this world can unite for love, as one.


Brown, B. (2015). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. Penguin.

Eisenberger, N. I., Lieberman, M. D., & Williams, K. D. (2003). Does rejection hurt? An fMRI study of social exclusion. Science, 302(5643), 290-292.

MacDonald, G., & Leary, M. R. (2005). Why does social exclusion hurt? The relationship between social and physical pain. Psychological bulletin, 131(2), 202.

Meyer, M. L., Masten, C. L., Ma, Y., Wang, C., Shi, Z., Eisenberger, N. I., & Han, S. (2012). Empathy for the social suffering of friends and strangers recruits distinct patterns of brain activation. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 8(4), 446-454.

Peck, B. M., Ketchum, P. R., & Embrick, D. G. (2011). Racism and sexism in the gaming world: Reinforcing or changing stereotypes in computer games?. Journal of Media and Communication Studies, 3(6), 212.

About author View all posts

Dr. Janina Scarlet

Dr. Janina Scarlet is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, a scientist, and a full time geek. She uses Superhero Therapy to help patients with anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and PTSD at the Center for Stress and Anxiety Management and Sharp Memorial Hospital. Dr. Scarlet also teaches at Alliant International University, San Diego. Her book, Superhero Therapy, is expected to be released in 2016 with Little, Brown Book Group.If you would like to learn more about Superhero Therapy, please feel free to contact Dr. Janina Scarlet via Twitter@shadowquill, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Shadow.Scarletl, or via her website at www.superhero-therapy.com

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